Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen

There's a lot of stuff out there.  If you know where to look, you can't throw a poison-tipped dagger +1 without accidentally critting a dozen different RPGs (1d4 of them old school), as well as, a plethora of adventures, campaign settings, and gaming aids (might as well get out your percentile dice).

The signal to meh ratio is about average, meaning gamers need to focus on keywords and names (because artwork alone can't tell you if something is awesome or sucky).  Anything that might clue them in to discovering off-beat adventure, bizarre encounters, and crazy hi-jinks.  Or you could read a review...

Well, Mark Taormino reached out to me, asking if I'd take a gander at his first, homemade OSR module called The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen.  Sure, I said.  It took me a few days to actually open the PDF up and start reading.

This book is something quite different, a rare blood diamond tournament-style scenario crossing Tomb of Horrors with a Vampirella comic book.  It reads like a choose-your-own-adventure in the vein of Tales from the Crypt.

It started with a kickstarter campaign.  You can see the author's passion for this work.  You can also see, he's no slouch.

Ok, so why do I love The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen so much?  Let's do this in bullet points...

  • Great hook!  This bloodsucking bitch has you imprisoned and for some strange reason (you'll find out later) she challenges a small band of the worst (or best, depending on your point of view) prisoners to escape her dungeon.
  • Cinematic feel!  The writing draws you in, chock full of sensory details and lurid visuals.  As a GM, you'll be excited to read the next boxed text, surprising your players with smells, sights, and far-out goings on.
  • It's sexy as hell!  From the cover and interior art to the description of the PC's erotic host.  I really enjoyed the lascivious moments - really brought the Player's Background section to (un)life!  Used sparingly, Hanging Coffins hits the right notes of exploitation. 
  • The rest of the artwork is also cool.  Personally, when I get to see a Minotaur rip a man's arm off - everybody wins!  Except the armless man, I suppose.
  • It's for high-level characters.  10th - 14th level characters and the dungeon is deadly enough to need at least 8 of them.  
  • A blue map - just like we used to get decades ago!  Also old school: the aforementioned boxed text, a rumor table, pre-generated characters, a section of new monsters, and familiar references to 80's D&D (with plenty of unexpected twists).
  • A sense of humor!  Oh man, does this hobby need it.  Not just gamers, human beings of every stripe take themselves very seriously.  More laughter, less rage.  Anton LaVey said that anyone without a sense of humor is too pretentious to be a good magician.  I believe the same holds true for an RPG author, especially if he's going for an old school vibe.
  • Non-standard encounters!  Each room feels special.  There's nothing cookie-cutter about this module. 

As a small critique, I noticed a few typos, some of the wandering monster stats referenced page numbers in the OSRIC book, and a few items of treasure had ridiculous appraisals - 6,000 gp estimated value for a non-magical medallion - really?  I also wish the Author's Note section had been much longer.  But, hey, that's my opportunity to interview him when Hanging Coffins becomes available on DriveThruRPG.  At the moment, you can only get it here.

Those minor quibbles aside, this was surprisingly fun to read.  It made me want to run it super bad.  As far as ratings go, it gets the highest possible - upon finishing the PDF, I laid out cold, hard, electronic cash for a physical copy.  The Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen shares my aesthetic wavelength.  Can't wait for his sophomore effort!  I'm just glad there are a few fresh voices out there in the dungeon wilderness, shredding the paper walls of conformity.


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